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The florist adopted its rather offbeat strategy in 2011 after achieving limited success with a more traditional approach to social marketing, however it was forced to abandon the comic tweets recently following a disaster with its Valentine’s Day deliveries.
A series of problems with the supply chain meant that a number of orders didn’t arrive on time, so the customer service team turned to Twitter to help deal with the flood of queries and complaints.
The crisis has since subsided and the comedy tweets are back up and running, so I spoke to Arena Flowers' managing director Will Wynne about how the company used Twitter to help deal with the situation...
1. What were the problems you had on and around Valentine's Day?
There was a technical supply chain issue which meant despite having everything in place we were slightly slower in putting everything together than forecast, so with a production run that can last just 24 hours to keep the flowers fresh, a fraction slipped over the deadline for the last collection.
Countless failsafes kicked in as planned (we even managed to work through all the power at the warehouse blowing for an hour as we had a back up generator) and we actually should have got everything out.
The hair that broke the camel's back was the last trailer from the courier being sent to last year's address for some unknown reason. Incredibly frustrating as without that, we would have got over the line with all bouquets shipped.
I'd have to say that two-week period was one of the worst I've ever experienced, which, given the quality of the product was outstanding (we have people on the farms in Kenya monitoring quality, unlike virtually any other florist), was even more depressing.
I'm happy to report however that Mother's Day went like clockwork and the majority of contacts we've had since have been people ringing to say how happy they were with the service, which is some small comfort.
2. At what point did you decide that you needed to use Twitter to help deal with the crisis?
We quickly realised that we were going to need a very strong customer service response to fix all the problems that were emerging.
We took the decision to route all refunds and fixes through email so that we could serve as many customers as quickly as possible which meant turning the phones off -- despite the annoyance that caused some customers -- we were then able to quadruple the team handling email to resolve issues quicker.
As part of this strategy we realised that we would need to communicate clearly, openly and honestly what was going on to customers. Twitter was an obvious part of that strategy -- as well as Facebook and our own website blog.
Much of this was driven by our customers: they were using Twitter to ask, so we used Twitter to answer.
3. Do you think you would have been able to deal with the situation as successfully without using your Twitter feed?
Twitter was really helpful at providing direct personalised responses to disappointed customers, as well as broadcasting updates.
When people know why something has happened and how it is being resolved, they are happier to give you time to fix it, rather than demanding an immediate response.
At one extreme, one angry customer sent 212 emails to customer services in a day, which slows the whole process down.
By using Twitter we were able to make that a rare occurrence and ask people to send one email and wait patiently for us to resolve the issue.
I thought it was interesting that the majority of people contacting us on Twitter did not follow the account and many reactivated old accounts or made new ones to get in touch.
The Twitter presence was there to reassure people things were being dealt with by customer services rather than resolving individual problems. Some people believed by using Twitter they could bypass the email system and jump to the head of the queue.
It was important that we did not start doing this because it would have caused more people to start using Twitter as a place to resolve individual problems.
I imagine there were people checking out the Twitter feed and not getting in touch because they could see things were being dealt with and understanding the problems caused by the backlog of emails.
So another function of the account was to take a little bit of pressure off the customer service team dealing with the emails.
4. Was this the first time you've stopped the funny tweets for a prolonged period of time since 2011?
We generally go quiet after big peak days to ensure that any issues are sorted out first so that people don't think we're being flippant.
That normally only takes a day or two though, rather than the two weeks that the Valentine's clear up took.
Part of the reason for the amount of time taken was that we'd done a deal with Money Saving Expert and their community can be extremely vocal. We had many, many more contacts per order from MSE customers than we did from normal Arena customers.
5. What made you decide that the situation was cleared up and the funny tweets could recommence?
It was clear once we had cleared the email backlog and processed refunds that most of the chatter died across all platforms. We put an announcement out to see if there were any unresolved problems and then ran an overlap period where the funny tweets restarted, but we were still doing direct @responses to CS issues.
There was and has been a continued amount of support and sympathy on the account which did well for our morale but also helped the returning writers.
6. Who comes up with the funny tweets, and how far in advance are they scheduled in?
The funny tweets have always been done live so there is no scheduling. They are written by a team of writers who specialise in producing social media content overseen by a marketer in Berlin called Dave Allan.
We were lucky to have found them when we did as they now produce original comedy output for both Diageo and Microsoft.
7. On another topic, how did Google's action against Interflora impact your search traffic?
8. Did you expect to see the brand reinstated on page one of Google so quickly after the penalty was imposed?
No, I was surprised by that like everyone else I think. It does lend credence to the argument that there's one rule for big brands and another for smaller ones.
It makes commercial sense as people expect to find big brands in a search engine, but given how aggressive Interflora can be it's not great seeing them let off that easily for what appear to have been some pretty dodgy practices.
9. Has it taught you anything about the value of search that you didn't already know?
Not really. Search is incredibly tough these days as there are so many unknowns, different factors and filters that it's very hard to optimise properly without either getting a penalty or being ineffective.
With all the various updates, it's hard to know what the right thing to do is which can be extremely frustrating. We know we have pretty much the best floral product in the UK after seven years of hard work on the business; the challenge is being able to cost effectively get our name in front of people.
That is part of the reason for the funny Twitter feed. People see our name regularly so therefore may be more likely to engage with us or seek us out when they are actually looking to buy flowers.
It's certainly a lot cheaper than PPC but sadly it doesn't have the ability to drive the same direct response sales volume!